In 1 Timothy 3 Paul talks about the overseer and the deacon. We have come to understand these descriptions as the office of overseer and the office of deacon. I am going to look at each word and talk about what makes us see them as an office.

There are two words used in 1 Timothy 3 for overseer. The first word is επισκοπή (1 Tim. 3:1) is translated as “office of overseer” in the NASB and “position of bishop” in the NKJV. The second word επίσκοπος (1 Tim 3:2) is translated simply as “overseer” or “bishop” (respectively). These are two different words but they are greatly related to each other.

The first word (επισκοπή) occurs four times in the New Testament (Luke 19:44 – visitation; Acts 1:20 – office; 1 Timothy 3:1 – office of overseer; and 1 Peter 2:12 – visitation). According to BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Ed., Pg.. 379) the word has three definitions: (1) the act of watching over with special reference to being present, visitation; (2) position of responsibility, position, assignment; (3) engagement in oversight, supervision. BDAG sites the latter definition as that best suited for 1 Timothy 3. BDAG also states that the second definition is “not an office as such, but activity of witnessing in line with the specifications in Ac 1:8, 21f.”

Based on this evidence I believe the translations of Acts 1:20 and 1 Timothy 3:1 are misleading. The YLT translates Acts 1:20 as “and his oversight let another take” instead of the NASB’s attempt of “LET ANOTHER MAN TAKE HIS OFFICE.” The YLT translates 1 Timothy 3:1 as “If any one the oversight doth long for” instead of “if any man aspires to the office of overseer.” In both of these cases the YLT translation is superior to the NASB’s attempt.

The second word επίσκοπος occurs five times in the New Testament (Acts 20:28 – overseers; Philippians 1:1 – overseers; 1 Timothy 3:2 – overseer; Titus 1:7 – overseer; 1 Peter 2:25 – overseer). As you can plainly see it is translated as overseer in each occurrence. BDAG defines this word as one who has the responsibility of safeguarding or seeing to it that something is done in the correct way, guardian. This word can also be used as bishop, but BDAG warns of this because it is too “technical and loaded with late historical baggage.”

In 1 Timothy 3:8 Paul starts talking about the deacons. The word διάκονος is translated as deacon. This word occurs in the New Testament 29 times. Here is how the word is used:

Servant – 18x – Mat. 20:26, 22:13, 23:11; Mark 9:35, 10:43; John 2:5, 2:9, 12:26; Rom. 15:8, 16:1; 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6, 6:4, 11:15(2x), 11:23; Col. 1:7, 4:7;
Minister – 8x – Rom. 13:4(2x); Gal. 2:17; Eph. 3:7, 6:21; Col. 1:23, 1:25; 1 Tim. 4:6;
Deacon – 3x – Phi. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8, 3:12;

According to BDAG (Pg.. 230-231) the word διάκονος carries two definitions: (1) one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction, agent, intermediary, courier; (2) one who gets something done, at the behest of a superior, assistant. BDAG also states that “the English derivatives ‘deacon’ and ‘deaconess’ are technical terms, whose meaning varies in ecclesiastical history and are therefore inadequate for rendering NT usage of διάκονος – as one identified for special ministerial service in a Christian community. ”

The English word Deacon occurs five times in the NT. Three are mentioned above and the other two are found in 1 Timothy 3:10 and 3:13. In 1 Timothy 3:10 the word being used is the verb διακονέω and is being translated as “let them serve as deacons” by the NASB or sometimes as “let them use the office of a deacon” by the KJV. The word διακονέω is generally used “to render service in a variety of ways either at someone’s behest or voluntarily and frequently with suggestion of movement” (BDAG, Pg.. 229). The translators added the words “as deacons” or “of a deacon” (respectively). The better translation is “let them serve” leaving off the “as deacons.” The YLT actually does render this verb as “let them minister.”

The same Greek verb is being used in 1 Timothy 3:13 and is being translated as “those who have served [well] as deacons” (NASB) or “they that have used the office of a deacon [well]” (KJV) – ‘well’ is in parenthesis because it comes from a different Greek word. As you can see the translators of the NASB and KJV are consistent in their adding of “as deacons” and “of a deacon” (respectively). The YLT is also consistent in their proper rendering of “those who did minister [well].”

As you can see there are translations that translate both the overseer and the deacon as an office. The question is, are these offices? The word translated as “office of a deacon” is a verb and has no support in the words definition to call it an office. The word translated as “office of an overseer” is a noun and there are places where the word was translated strictly as “office” but there are other translations that do not stray from the meaning of the word.

We have to come to the text without presuppositions or, at least, with the knowledge of our presuppositions. If you lived on an island, had a Greek bible, had a Greek lexicon, and never knew anything about an office of overseer or an office of deacon would you translate these words in 1 Timothy 3 as an office at all? I think the evidence suggests that you would not, so why did the NASB and the KJV translate these words as an office? Answer: The qualifications.

In 1 Timothy 3 – Part 1 I discussed what these qualifications actually mean. There are other evidences for my position. Look at the qualifications for other offices found in the Bible. Check these out:

The Office of So-Called Brother (1 Corinthians 5:11)
I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler . . .

The Office of Unrighteous (1 Corinthians 6:9)
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

The Office of Law-Breakers (1 Timothy 1:9-10)
law is . . . for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching . . .

The Office of Other-People (Luke 18:11)
God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector . . .

You see, just because there are a list of items that describe a person does not mean that it is an office.

Discussion welcome as usual…


  1. Lew,
    Thank you for this study. I am particularly interested in your discoveries concerning “deacons.” Yesterday, some friends and I discussed the role of “deacons.” Someone suggested that in Scripture when we see deacons operating, they are handling contributions (i.e. for the widows in Acts 6). This seems to correspond to both basic BDAG definitions: 1) one who serves as an intermediary in a transaction and 2) one who gets something done. This gives me much to think about.
    – Alan

  2. Hey Lew, I tried to leave a message on your myspace profile, but it wouldn’t work… I just wanted to say that I am glad that you are okay! I really hope you are more careful on the bike. I really don’t want to see you get hurt. I love you.


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